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Unghosting Apparitional (Lesbian) History

Erasures of Black Lesbian Feminism

Michelle Moravec, Author

This comment was written by Julie R Enszer on 9 Feb 2014.

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Public, Semi-Public, and Private Contributions - with much in between

The question of people's degree of "publicness" in the past fascinates me, especially in relationship to lesbians and gay men. From my experiences working in LGBT communities in the late 1980s and 1990s, there were a variety of calculations made about the degrees to which people were public about the sexual orientations - and about their politics. Everyone drew these lines in different ways and with different consequences. How can our scholarship respect these different decisions that people made? For instance, some people I know felt comfortable writing for a gay and lesbian newspaper and considered that closeted because it was just for the community. If these are then digitized, they can potentially out people in very different ways than people ever imagined. There was a way in which speaking in feminist or queer newspapers was not a public statement in the same way as speaking to the New York Times. Therefore, digitizing these material changes the terms of engagements for the authors and for the readers. How do we translate that information into a new age? Particularly that we are in a space now where people value public work, public persona, and public engagement, how do we craft an understanding of the different types of contributions that people made in the past and the different expectations that they had about privacy and publicness for their contributions in the past. These are important questions for me to think about and grapple with in these types of projects.
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Beyond the Footnotes (9 February 2014)
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Discussion of "Public, Semi-Public, and Private Contributions - with much in between"

queered by the archive


This is a question that came up in my Digital Curation class last week (at CU Boulder). It was a great discussion. We tried to tease out GLBT identities in relation to the archive, off and online. I’m going to try to recap a bit of that discussion in relation to the comment above in hopes that it adds to the discussion. I also did my Masters (back in the day) on GLBT archives and absences so I’ll draw from that experience, too.

First off, we put into question the aggregate of LGBT. How are these “communities” presumed to be linked and who does that acronym serve? In Canada, for example, the LGBT archives are predominantly gay (male). Tacking on the LBT has been to encourage and attract a diversity of contents, but it has also facilitated access to wider pools for funding. So it’s less descriptive than it is wishful. The contents, as well as the people who occupy the space of the archive, shape archival politics and policies. In contrast to the Women’s Movement Archives (now at the University of Ottawa), the GLBT archives in Toronto place the onus or representation and the responsibility on how materials are used on the researcher. Being “out” is the way forward whereas at the Women’s Movement Archives, much of the contents remain unavailable to the public because they are deemed private and potentially harmful if revealed. This gendered difference -- even if painted in large strokes here -- can serve to ask deeper questions about publicness and visibility.

The second issue is about the structure of the archive itself. In class we debated the complexities of GLBT and queer identities. On the one hand, efforts to dig out queer histories and render GLBT histories visible is an important restorative project, and on the other hand it serves to reinforce the notion of the archive as authoritative source. We tried to imagine the queer archive differently. Maybe it’s not intended to be stable, categorized, structured. If we consider that GLBT and queer histories are also always sites of gender and sexuality, then should the repository of these subjects be just as slippery and affective, if not evasive and disordered?

What of bodies that transform to become what they are by shedding the past. Do these need to be recorded? Can GLBT and queer labels become an imposed model for bodies that might need to escape a particular version of the past? Can a linear history become a burden for some of us?

We also debated queer as a verb. But as a verb, I think it risks downplaying the bodies attached to ‘difference’ and the discrimination that comes with it. That’s still real. So ‘queering’ is problematic and useful. I think “queering” does work like “racing,” as a reading tool. Our queer experience and bodies allow us to read against / across moments or texts to see how fear and desire play out.

In class we more or less decided that the feminist and queer lense is a situated way of looking and knowing. That (some) queer bodies navigate the world differently and network differently than the mainstream. Maybe these can serve to inform how queer stuff should circulate, be housed and cared for. We’re looking at something more inhabited and embodied than proprietary or owned. Not sure. As for making things public through digitization, I think it makes us scrutinize both the notion of openness as inherently good for all, all the time, and also how the closet continues to be an important metaphor in not only GLBT and queer histories but also maybe for the archive and archival circulation.

I think it comes back down to the question of intent -- beyond what technology enables and also beyond what the mainstream is doing with their collections…

Anyway, lots of great ideas circulating -- I’d love to continue to be part of the conversation.
Mél Hogan


ps: With my collaborator, Andrea Zeffiro, we also explore some of these questions in “Queered by the Archive: No More Potlucks and the Activist Potential of Archival Theory” coming out soon in Research Justice Reader (Edited by Andrew Jolivette in Collaboration with the DataCenter, Research for Justice).


Posted on 19 April 2014, 10:37 am by Mél Hogan  |  Permalink

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